Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Online Comics


I just checked out Marvel’s new online comic downloading service. I’ve got sort of mixed emotions about it.

On the one hand, I like the idea of having instant access to back issues of books that aren’t out in trade paperback. While I have great affection for all the silver and bronze age Marvel stuff, I’m not prepared to plunk down a small fortune for the Marvel Masterworks and I understand that all that stuff isn’t really easily marketable in trade format. Who wants to pay 18-24 bucks for six or eight issues of done-in-one IRON MAN or DAREDEVIL in paperback? Besides me, that is. Up until now, I’ve relied on the Marvel ESSENTIALS line to get my fix and, while I love being able to see the artwork in black and white, a lot of this stuff really works best in color.

On the other hand, the whole thing has some drawbacks. For one, the site is slow as molasses. I don’t want to wait five or ten minutes (and I’m on a lightning-fast connection) only to find out I clicked on the wrong issue. For another, since you’re just renting the books (it’s online only), the price is a little steep. $9.99 a month or $59.88 per year. I can’t see them attracting many casual comic readers with that kind of expense.

My biggest concern is whether or not the creators are being compensated in any way. I know that Marvel recently started putting artwork on CORBIS, the stock photo site used by companies (like the ad agency where I work.) I also know that the artists that created that artwork don’t get spit. This is one of the reasons there are so many covers on current books with heroes just standing there looking cool. The artists have to sign away any future rights to the work if they want to get paid and that leaves the publisher free to use the artwork on T-shirts, posters, lunchboxes, toy packaging, etc., without having to pay those lucrative freelance fees for merchandising art. I can’t help but wonder if online comics is yet another way for publishers to get around paying creators for royalties based on how many copies of a given book are sold. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any inside information on the subject. This is just guessing on my part. My only hope is that if there isn’t a plan in place to give the guys who created these great comics a slice of this digital pie, then there’s one forthcoming.

This is the very close to the issue at the heart of the current Hollywood writers strike. (Royalties on DVD sales and online downloads.) If artists and writers aren’t making any money on this latest venture, then it seems to me that the American comics industry is very fortunate that the creative folk never unionized.

9 comments:

Heywood Jablomie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heywood Jablomie said...

hey matt-

yeah this is one of those 'wait and see' kind of things. i prefer to hold my books while i read them. that and it's hard to drag a computer into my fave reading place(not going to happen). i won't be signing up for this really, but who knows what will happen. i like the essentials though, even if they're not in color, sometimes the coloring of some of those old issues just kinda hurts my eyes to look at, but the smell of an old comic, can't beat that at all!!

newsarama has an article on this with questions to some creators here: http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=136274

Brian said...

I too immediately thought of the impact this would have on residuals from trades and reprints and wondered if the talent were getting anything from the new on line venture. Given the history of comic companies in this area, my quess would be that no payments are planned.

Josh said...

well, according to the Quesada interview I read, there's "a plan" for payment to the creators, but no mention of what that plan was.

So the artists don't get any kind of residuals on secondary merchandise? I thought it was kind of cool that so much of Mike's artwork has been showing up on Hasbro's toy packaging, but now I'm not so sure.

As for Marvel's online plan, I'd really rather they did what CrossGen did when they started their online thing years ago: have the monthly and yearly fees, sure, but also offer a very limited-time "lifetime" subscription choice. Pay one price now and get the books forever. CrossGen's long gone, but I still read their stuff online when I have the time...

Matt Wieringo said...

Nice to hear there's a plan in place to compensate the creative guys. And, no, Mike didn't make a dime from the use of his artwork on those packages. He was pretty unperturbed about it, though. I was a lot hotter about the whole thing than he was.

Leaf said...

As a Debbil's Advocate of sorts...I wonder if Mike's carefree attitude toward the deal had to do more with him knowing that any Marvel character he drew wasn't truly his creation. Being an artist and being the creator are two different things in the world of comicdom from what I've seen and heard, but, then again, what do I know? That said, I'd love to get paid everytime someone uses a piece of my art. (You hear me, Rex & Roxy's?) Do I? Hell no, but at least I got paid once.

As to the online comic thing, no thanks. I need something I store and geek over whenever I want. I squint at a computer all day long. Comics are a way to relax and I don't see myself curling up with a computer to read this week's releases.

emilio said...

It does sound a bit pricey specially if you're just interested in catching up on 1 or 2 older issues. It would be nice if they also had a per issue rate.

I am glad that there's a plan to compensate the talent. Hope it works out.

McGill said...

This whole system stinks to me.
I hated comics going to the slick paper...I didn't mind it at first, but everytime I go into a comic bok shop now, that overpowering smell of newsprint is gone...and so is the excitement I had as a kid, looking forward to see what the X-Men got into that month...

And...scary guys don't run comic shops anymore...This one corner shop behind the Taco Bell had this Huge guy working in there, or the extra-skinny guy...they were scary...always eye-balling you...you were afraid, very afraid...

todd said...

took a while for me to log in on this one;
years ago, i was one of those people who swore that die-hard collectors would never give up their hold-in-your-hand monthlies for a virtual comic, even one that could be stored away in a file to look at over and over again. personally, i just couldn't give up that hold-it-in-your-hands sensation --and, of course, the smell of the newsprint...
this was, of course, before (or avtually, shortly after) the paper upgrade and the higher production values--and before the trades took over the market. now, it seems the monthlies are slowly becoming a thing of the past. sad. sad.
but i still don't think this online comics is gonna go. we are collectors and we are possessive. we need to hold it, to feel it, to experience it. i wanna get close to the art and the computer just doesn't do that for me.
but then, that's just my opinion.
i've been wrong before.
todd